Saturday, August 01, 2020

Judicial departmentalism and particularity on Twitter (Updated)

In 2019, the Second Circuit held that Donald Trump could not ban people from following him on Twitter for viewpoint-discriminatory reasons, affirming a declaratory judgment. Trump and Daniel Scavino, the aide who runs his Twitter account, unblocked the plaintiffs and many others. But they did not unblock two groups--those who had been blocked before Trump became President (where there was no First Amendment problem with blocking them because he was not a government official at the time of blocking) and those who cannot point to a specific tweet that caused them to be blocked (where there is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination).

The Knight Foundation on Friday filed a new lawsuit on behalf of those two groups, asking for a declaratory judgment and injunction ordering the unblocking of these new plaintiffs.

Once again, inefficient but appropriate. Trump unblocked the plaintiffs, as we was obligated to do by the judgment. He negotiated with the Knight Foundation to unblock others, not out of an immediately enforceable legal obligation but a recognition of what would happen if he did not unblock--a motion to extend the existing judgment to additional individuals, which would succeed and which would impose that legal obligation. But he identified two groups differently situated than the plaintiffs who, in Trump's view, have not suffered similar violations of their First Amendment rights. This requires new litigation, a new analysis of the First Amendment, and a new declaration of First Amendment rights, duties, and relations.

Update: A further thought on the process: We know the plaintiffs recognized the particularized scope of the original judgment by the fact that they filed a new lawsuit on behalf of these plaintiffs. Had the original judgment protected these non-parties to that action, they could have moved to enforce the judgment, to hold Trump or Scavino in contempt, or to convert the declaratory judgment into an injunction.

For better or worse, this how the process should work. And Trump should not be accused of disobeying a court order or otherwise ignoring the court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 1, 2020 at 06:41 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

JOTWELL: Singer on Reichman, Sagy, & Balaban on machines and judges

The new Courts Law essay comes from guest reviewer Jordan Singer (New England Law-Boston), reviewing Amnon Reichman, Yair Sagy, & Shlomi Balaban, From a Panacea to a Panopticon: The Use and Misuse of Technology in the Regulation of Judges, 71 Hastings L.J. 589 (2020).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2020 at 10:32 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2020

(Update) Grab your fedora, we are all journalists now and other thoughts on the Portland TRO

A federal judges issued a TRO preventing federal paramilitary force in Portland from targeting journalists and legal observers. An existing preliminary injunction, to which the City stipulated, does the same as to Portland police. Some thoughts and questions.

First, the TRO requires journalists and legal observers to identify themselves through badges or distinctive clothing (hats, press passes, etc.). Some concerns and questions.

Vintage-reporter-fedora-hat-camera-picture-id510580998First, it is about time we revived this look from His Girl Friday or The Brady Bunch.

Second, this seems to run afoul of the principle that the press does not have special status from other speakers when it comes to what they can say and their access to spaces. The key access cases speak of information-gathering by the press and the public. I expect that some non-press people in the mix of these protests are there to observe and record. And they possess or can possess the same equipment that allows a reporter to do her job--a device that takes photographs, moving pictures, and audio recordings. And I assume fedoras can be purchased online. Maybe the point should be to not have paramilitary forces using force and effecting arrests indiscriminately against anyone who happens to be in a crowd but is not engaging in unlawful activity, not only those with J.D.s or an institutional affiliation.

Second, the government tried to defeat the plaintiffs' standing with a string of cases making it difficult to challenge practices within the criminal-justice system (choke holds during arrests, discriminatory bail or sentencing); the cases rest on the refusal to speculate that the plaintiff will break the law and thus come in contact with the criminal-justice system and be subject to those policies. The court rejected that because threat to plaintiff arose not from breaking laws, but from engaging in protected First Amendment activity--"It is one thing to ask citizens to obey the law in the future to avoid future alleged harm. But it is quite another for the Federal Defendants to insist that Plaintiffs must forgo constitutionally protected activity if they wish to avoid government force and interference." Good call.

Third, the court orders wide dissemination of the order, including to Bill Barr and Ken Cuccinelli and those with supervisory authority over agents in Portland. The reason is that "the Court considers any willful violation of this Order, or any express direction by a supervisor or commander to disregard or violate this Order, to be a violation of a clearly established constitutional right and thus not subject to qualified immunity" in any Bivens action. This is odd. The violation of the order is not necessarily the same as a violation of the underlying constitutional rights protected by the order, but only the latter would be the basis for a Bivens action. The court seems to be couching its power to enforce its order with its power to award damages should an injury occur. That is, it will use its equitable power to enforce its equitable order by imposing a legal remedy. Equity cannot enjoin a crime, but can it enjoin a constitutional tort? Any way, I am troubled by the practice--made necessary by unwise qualified-immunity doctrine--of courts announcing that "henceforth, some right is clearly established.

Update: From a conversation with a Remedies colleague: A court can enforce an injunction through civil contempt, which can be compensatory. A court could order the violating defendant to pay money to the plaintiff in the amount of the injury suffered. And if that injury were physical (e.g., medical expenses from being shot), the remedy would look like compensatory damages. But Bivens and qualified immunity still have nothing to do with this. A plaintiff need not bring a Bivens claim if the remedy is contempt for an existing court order in an ongoing case. And qualified immunity should have no role to play in the court enforcing an existing order.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2020 at 08:26 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-SLAPP law does not apply in Second Circuit

The Second Circuit has joined the chorus holding that state anti-SLAPP laws (in that case, California's) do not apply in federal court. The case arises out of a lawsuit against Joy Reid over two tweets with a photo of a woman in a MAGA hat interacting with a Latinx teen at a city council meeting; one tweet described the plaintiff as shouting epithets at the teen (who said their interaction was civil), while the other juxtaposed the infamous 1957 photograph of the screaming white teen in Little Rock.

The Second Circuit joins the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits in not applying them, compared with the Ninth and First that. The court followed the prevailing approach--FRCP 12 and 56 provide the standards for pre-trial resolution, leaving no room for state law. The court rejected the amici argument that the SLAPP law serves a "distinct function of protecting those specific defendants that have been targeted with litigation on the basis of their protected speech," supplementing rather than conflicting with the FRCP. But this is a policy argument, one that contradicts the policies underlying the FRCP themselves. The court also rejected the defendant's argument that she can recover attorney's fees under the statute for a 12(b)(6) dismissal; the statute allows fees when the defendant prevails on the statutory motion to strike, not on some other basis.

Tellingly, the four most recent cases have gone this way, while the First Circuit decision is from 2010 and the seminal Ninth Circuit cases is from 1999, with several Ninth Circuit judges calling for its reconsideration in 2013. The courts of appeals are congealing around the correct Erie answer and may not require SCOTUS resolution, one point of percolation.

But that might not be the correct answer as a matter of the First Amendment and the need to protect speakers, especially media, against frivolous lawsuits by powerful individuals designed to chill public criticism. (Query whether this is such a case, but bracket that for a moment). Many First Amendment advocates want a full federal anti-SLAPP statute. For the moment, I think a fee-shifting statute, combined with vigorous use of Twiqbal would be sufficient to get rid of cases early in the process and to protect defendants from the intentional imposition of litigation costs. But I need to look in greater detail at how federal courts have looked at defamation claims under that pleading standard.

SLAPP and Erie aside, this case may be more troubling for Reid going forward. The court held that the plaintiff (who spoke and was photographed at city council meetings advocating against sanctuary-city laws) was not a limited-purpose public figure; she lacked media access, did not thrust herself into a public controversy, and stepped forward for interviews only after the first alleged defamation. Thus, the plaintiff had to allege negligence, not actual malice. The court also rejected Reid's argument that the second tweet (juxtaposing the photos) was not an actionable assertion of fact, because a reasonable reader could understand it as equating the plaintiff's conduct with "archetypal racist conduct."

It is interesting that this case came to litigation. When the plaintiff's lawyer asked Reid to delete the posts, Reid did so and apologized, which would seem to suggest the absence of negligence. But the plaintiff sued anyway. And we continue forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2020 at 07:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide, Again

The Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction prohibiting enforcement of DOJ's sanctuary-city regulations as to California and the City and County of San Francisco. This comes after the Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc of a panel decision declaring the regulations valid. We now have a clear circuit split, although I imagine nothing will happen at SCOTUS if Biden wins and the regulations go away.

The Ninth Circuit did narrow the injunction to prohibit enforcement within California but nowhere else. It did so in terms that seem to contemplate the distinction between the injunction's who and where:

Plaintiffs here, a state and a municipality, “‘operate in a fashion that permits neat geographic boundaries.’” . . . Because Plaintiffs do not operate or suffer harm outside of their own borders, the geographical scope of an injunction can be neatly drawn to provide no more or less relief than what is necessary to redress Plaintiffs’ injuries. This is distinguishable from a case involving plaintiffs that operate and suffer harm in a number of jurisdictions, where the process of tailoring an injunction may be more complex.

The court distinguished a case involving asylum organizations that operate in California and other states, where an injunction limited to California would not address the harm from losing a client in Texas.

On the other hand, the court "acknowledge[d] the 'increasingly controversial' nature of nationwide injunction," a framing that confuses the point. There should be nothing controversial about nationwide injunctions, which the court faced here--injunctions that protect the plaintiffs wherever they operate. The controversy is over universal injunctions--injunctions that attempt to protect beyond the plaintiffs. Still, we are slowly getting there.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2020 at 03:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 10, 2020

The process of Mazars and Vance (Updated)

Some process questions following Mazars and Vance, less about what happens on remand in these cases* than about what happens in future cases.

[*] I agree with what I have seen as a prevailing consensus--Trump runs out the clock on these subpoenas for this term, but may be in for a world of hurt and embarrassment as a private citizen if he loses in November. If he wins in November, all bets may be off.

Mazars

1) Which way do the incentives cut following Mazars and how likely is litigation over future subpoena disputes? The Chief's premise is that these cases historically were handled through the hurly-burly of politics until inter-branch negotiation broke down here (with no mention of why inter-branch negotiation broke down during this administration and not before). But Congress' subpoena power cannot be too broad, otherwise "[i]nstead of negotiating over information requests, Congress could simply walk away from the bargaining table and compel compliance in court."

But then why had Congress never previously walked away from the bargaining table? The majority cites four examples--from Washington, Jefferson, Reagan, and Clinton--in which Congress has negotiated for and accepted some-but-less-than-all of what it requested. He cites no examples in which Congress walked away, despite precedent hinting at a broader subpoena power than what the Court recognized.

More importantly, what about presidential incentives? He holds the information and has no desire to give it up unless and until compelled to do so. Mazars offers a more beneficial standard (how beneficial is a subject of debate and must await future cases) that must be satisfied before he can be compelled to do so. So it seems to me that "instead of negotiating over information requests, [the President] could simply walk away from the bargaining table and compel [Congress to start the lengthy process to] compel compliance in court," where the President can try to avail himself of the new standard. Moreover, time is on the executive's side--if the litigation process takes a year or more (not unlikely if SCOTUS gets involved), the President can try to hold out to the next election or to the end of the Congress and the expiration of the subpoena.

2) The President's incentive to walk away is furthered by the Speech or Debate Clause, which prevents suit against Congress. The house or the committee must make the first move by bringing an action to enforce the subpoena or holding the President in contempt of Congress and seeking to enforce the contempt order (which requires the U.S. Attorney for D.C.). Either way, Congress is the first actor. The President's incentive is not to bargain, to run out the clock, and, perhaps, try to shift political blame onto Congress for escalating the political stalemate.

3) We see a stark contrast in what gets left to the hurly-burly of politics and what is appropriate for judicial refereeing. Whether members of the legislature can rig the design of legislative districts to (try to) ensure continuation in office of themselves and their party colleagues) is politics; how one branch engages in oversight of another branch requires judicial intervention. For present purposes, it does not matter which is correct; the point is an odd disparity.

Vance

4) The procedural issue in Vance involves Younger abstention. The state grand jury issued the subpoenas, Trump sued the DA in federal court, the district court abstained in deference to pending state proceedings, and the Second Circuit held that abstention was improper. Vance did not appeal the Younger ruling, so SCOTUS never had reason to decide it. But the Court said that a President could challenge in federal court a subpoena that attempted to influence or manipulate his official actions. Later, the Court says the President can raise "subpoena-specific constitutional challenges, in either a state or federal forum," such as claims of undue influence or undue interference.

But how does a case such as this fit into Younger? The typical framework for Younger goes as follows: 1) Whether the case falls within one of three classes of cases (including ongoing criminal proceedings; 2) consideration of the Middlesex factors of whether there is an ongoing proceeding, whether the proceeding implicates state interests, and whether the federal plaintiff can raise federal issues in state court; and 3) whether the case falls within an exception, such as bad faith, harassment, or "other exceptional circumstances."

The Second Circuit's analysis did not follow this framework. It instead held that Younger's underlying concerns for comity were not implicated in a case built around a federal-state conflict and raising "novel and serious" federal issues. It could have squeezed those concerns into the exceptions (this is what Trump argued in the complaint), but instead made them macro-level policy considerations that a court must consider before jumping into that framework.

5) What about Younger going forward, in this case or a future case? With respect to subpoenas for private documents, the President seems to be an ordinary citizen able to challenge a subpoena on state and federal grounds, including unique federal presidential grounds such as non-interference with Article II functions. Are those challenges automatically a basis for federal jurisdiction and non-abstention? Can ordinary state-law arguments against a subpoena, such as overbreadth, be a basis for federal jurisdiction? Do state-law arguments become Article II arguments when raised by the President? Must there be a federal forum for all Article II arguments, in a way there need not be a federal forum for First Amendment arguments?

6) The Court's resolution arguably alters the Younger analysis in this case. The Second Circuit rejected abstention because of the President's "novel and serious claims," specifically that the President is absolutely immune from state criminal investigation or that a unique standard applies. So the same questions apply: If the President is asserting micro challenges, many under state law, to specific pieces of the injunction, is a federal forum warranted? Can the lower court, having rejected Younger, find abstention appropriate given the changed nature of the case?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 10, 2020 at 03:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide

A good illustration of why the nationwide/universal and where/who distinction matters for the scope-of-injunction question. Here is footnote 28 in Ginsburg dissent in Little Sisters:

Although the Court does not reach the issue, the District Court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a nationwide injunction. The Administrative Procedure Act contemplates nationwide relief from invalid agency action. See 5 U. S. C. §706(2) (empowering courts to “hold unlawful and set aside agency action”). Moreover, the nationwide reach of the injunction “was ‘necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs.’ Trump v. Hawaii, 585 U. S. ___, ___, n. 15 (2018) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 25, n. 13) (quoting Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc., 512 U. S. 753, 765 (1994)). Harm to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Court of Appeals explained, occurs because women who lose benefits under the exemption “will turn to state-funded services for their contraceptive needs and for the unintended pregnancies that may result from the loss of coverage.” 930 F. 3d, at 562. This harm is not bounded by state lines. The Court of Appeals noted, for example, that some800,000 residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey work—and thus receive their health insurance—out of State. Id., at 576. Similarly, many students who attend colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey receive their health insurance from their parents’ out-of-state health plans. Ibid.

Ginsburg is correct that protecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania is not bounded by state lines, given the number of employees, students, etc. likely to turn to the state for financial assistance. That is, the injunction should have been nationwide in where it protects the parties.  It should protect NJ and Pennsylvania and those people with some connection to NJ or Pennsylvania (on whose behalf NJ and Pennsylvania sued), regardless of where those people are.

But complete relief does not require that the regs be enjoined as to other states who may incur the same harm as NJ and PA or to individuals who might be denied coverage but have no connection to NJ and PA. That is, the injunction need not be universal (or non-particularized) in who it protects. Complete relief to NJ and PA does not require that the enforcement be enjoined as to California or those people who might turn to California for funding if denied coverage.

For what it is worth, the same should apply to the lawsuit Harvard and MIT filed to stop ICE from enforcing the rules with respect to student-visa holders and remote courses. Complete relief to Harvard and MIT does not require enjoining enforcement of the regulations as to other schools or students from schools other than Harvard and MIT. It only requires an injunction protecting Harvard and MIT and their students, regardless of where located. I recognize this is inefficient. But this is the scheme we have.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 8, 2020 at 01:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, July 06, 2020

On invalidating laws and universal declaratory judgments

After the jump is FN 8 of Kavanaugh's plurality in Barr v. AAPC. As I said, I wanted to include this in its own post.

The term “invalidate” is a common judicial shorthand when the Court holds that a particular provision is unlawful and therefore may not be enforced against a plaintiff. To be clear, however, when it “invalidates” a law as unconstitutional, the Court of course does not formally repeal the law from the U. S. Code or the Statutes at Large. Instead, in Chief Justice Marshall’s words, the Court recognizes that the Constitution is a “superior, paramount law,” and that “a legislative act contrary to the constitution is not law” at all. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). The Court’s authority on this front “amounts to little more than the negative power to disregard an unconstitutional enactment.” Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U. S. 447, 488 (1923).

JUSTICE THOMAS’s thoughtful approach to severability as outlined in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn., 584 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (slip op., at 2–6), and Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ante, at 14–24, (joined by JUSTICE GORSUCH in the latter) would simply enjoin enforcement of a law as applied to the particular plaintiffs in a case. Under either the Court’s approach or JUSTICE THOMAS’s approach, an offending provision formally remains on the statute books (at least unless Congress also formally repeals it). Under either approach, the formal remedy afforded to the plaintiff is an injunction, declaration, or damages. One difference between the two approaches is this: Under the Court’s approach, a provision is declared invalid and cannot be lawfully enforced against others. Under JUSTICE THOMAS’s approach, the Court’s ruling that a provision cannot be enforced against the plaintiff, plus executive respect in its enforcement policies for controlling decisional law, plus vertical and horizontal stare decisis in the courts, will mean that the provision will not and cannot be lawfully enforced against others. The Court and JUSTICE THOMAS take different analytical paths, but in many cases, the different paths lead to the same place.

This is important in several respects.

It clearly explains that "invalidating" a law is merely "common judicial shorthand," that what the Court is really doing is holding that a provision "may not be enforced against a plaintiff." The Court does not say the law cannot be enforced at all or against all people, only against a plaintiff. But no matter what, the law remains on the statute books until Congress repeals it, a task only Congress can perform.

Kavanaugh perfectly describes judicial departmentalism: The injunction prohibits enforcement of the law against the plaintiff; the executive voluntarily respects decisional law in future enforcement efforts (but is not required to do so); and stare decisis means any enforcement fails in the courts. Under Kavanaugh's approach, by contrast, the declaration of a provision as invalid means it cannot be lawfully enforced against others. But Kavanaugh does not explain why this is so and I do not see why it should be. The statement conflicts with the Court's statement in Doran v. Salem Inn that a declaratory judgment does not stop a state government from enforcing a law against other persons and leaves government free to do so. And if declaratory judgment is a milder form of relief than an injunction, it should not have a broader party scope than an injunction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2020 at 02:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Notes on Barr v. AAPC

There is a lot in the Court's decision in Barr v. AAPC, declaring invalid the government-debt exception (enacted in 2015) to the ban on robocalls to cell phones (enacted in 1991), but holding that the remedy is to allow government to enforce the original 1991 ban on everyone. Kavanaugh writes for the Chief, Thomas, and Alito that the exception is unconstitutionally content-based and does not survive strict scrutiny and for the Chief and Alito that the remedy is to level everyone down. Sotomayor finds the law constitutionally invalid under the less-rigid scrutiny proposed by Breyer and severable. Breyer writes for Ginsburg and Kagan that the law is constitutionally valid under less-rigid scrutiny, but that, since everyone else disagrees, they agree that the 2015 exception is severable. Justice Gorsuch agrees the 2015 exception invalid on a different analysis, but that the proper remedy is prohibiting enforcement of the entire robocall ban. So one 6-3 on the First Amendment issue, a largely different 7-2 on severability.

• The First Amendment portion is Reed redux. Five Justices (Kavanaugh's four + Gorsuch) say that the statute is content-based and requires strict scrutiny because it distinguishes based on subject matter--robocalls about government debt are ok, everything else (non-government debt, political speech, sales calls about baseball tickets) are prohibited. Breyer continues the squishier balancing he proposed in Bartnicki and then in Reed. The First Amendment is designed to protect political speech, public forums, and an airing for all viewpoints, but is not designed to interfere with commercial regulatory schemes that incidentally affect speech and that do not affect meaningful public discourse. Such incidental regulation should be subject to a less-rigid balancing of the seriousness of the speech-related harm, the importance of countervailing government objectives, the likelihood the regulation will achieve those objectives, and whether there are less-restrictive ways of doing so. Applying that, Breyer argues that the speech disadvantaged (non-government debt collection) is commercial and highly regulated, while the government has an interest in protecting the public fisc by enabling collection of government debts through calls made solely to collect government debt.

• Sotomayor argues the statute fails even under that test, because the government has not explained how collection calls about government debt are less intrusive and less privacy-invading than collection calls about private debt.

• Breyer (and the government) remain concerned that the application of strict scrutiny threatens regulatory schemes such as the SEC, FDCPA, and FDA, all of which limit what regulated entities can say in order to protect consumers. Kavanaugh dismisses the slippery-slope arguments, insisting that "courts have generally been able to distinguish impermissible content-based speech restrictions from tradition or ordinary economic regulation of economic activity."

• People have argued that the severability analysis shows that it is unlikely that the Court will declare invalid the entire ACA next Term, even if the individual mandate is invalid as a tax. Perhaps, although do not underestimate irrational hatred for the ACA. Plus, this case was as much a leveling case as a severability case--the 2015 exception was invalid because it treated the plaintiffs less favorably than collectors of government debt. The majority resolves that problem by "leveling down," leaving the 2015 exception unenforceable and placing all speakers in the same position of being unable to use robocalls. Gorsuch (joined by Thomas in this part) rejects this, arguing that the Court fails to remedy the violation of the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights--they want to be able to speak, not to have others prevented from speaking. The result of the case is that no one can make robo calls, which does not give the plaintiffs anything and harms non-plaintiffs.

The point of departure is what provision is invalid in this case. For Gorsuch, it was the original 1991 ban, whose invalidity is shown by the 2015 exception. Thus, the proper remedy for the violation is to make the 1991 ban unenforceable against the plaintiffs. But that, Kavanaugh argues, harms a different group of strangers--the millions of people who will be bombarded by robocalls.

• Kavanaugh's opinion includes a discursive footnote engaging Thomas on the  what it means to "invalidate" a law and what courts should do. I save that for a second post.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2020 at 01:35 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Law prof letter on constitutional-litigation reform

As I mentioned, A law professor letter is circulating in support of the one-two punch of eliminating qualified immunity and overriding Monell  to make municipalities liable on respondeat superior. The letter is here. Signatures close at 3 p.m. EDT (Noon PDT) today, for those who have not signed but wish to do so.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2020 at 12:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL: Endo on Engstrom & Gelbach on legal tech

The new Courts Law essay comes from new contributor Seth Katsuya Endo (Florida) reviewing Daniel Freeman Engstrom & Jonah B. Gelbach, Legal Tech, Civil Procedure, and the Future of Adversarialism, 169 U. Pa. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2020), exploring the interplay between new legal technology and the adjudicative process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2020 at 10:24 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2020

More on constitutional-litigation reform (Updated)

A law professor letter is circulating in support of the one-two punch of eliminating qualified immunity and overriding Monell  to make municipalities liable on respondeat superior. The move towards respondeat superior liability is in the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN)The letter is here, for those interested in signing.*

[*] I signed the letter, as it involves an issue on which I know something as a legal scholar, as opposed to as a citizen with a law degree.

Braun's bill also would revise, but not eliminate qualified immunity. He replaces it with a narrower immunity that protects an officer if he acts in good faith and either acted pursuant to a statute or regulation that had not been declared invalid or the conduct had not been declared invalid. In essence, the change to immunity flips the default--an officer is not immune if the law is uncertain, but becomes immune if the law is certain that his conduct is valid.

Full reform still requires two more steps. Section 1983 must be extended to states, which Congress can do by making clear that states are persons for § 1983 purposes. Otherwise, state police and sheriff's officers will be beyond these reforms, since they are not local officers. And something has to be done to codify the Bivens cause of action, otherwise federal officers will be beyond these reforms.

Update: A reader emails to offer another way to limit the effects of qualified immunity--overruling or overriding Mitchell v. Forsyth and eliminating collateral-order review of Q/I denials, which places Q/I at the heart of the case and moves cases quickly into the court of appeals and SCOTUS. Eliminating immediate review (or requiring judicial leave under § 1292(b)) would combine well with Braun's approach. I have not seen this as part of any proposals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2020 at 01:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Mootness, departmentalism, and universality

Here is an interesting mootness decision from the Third Circuit (written by Judge Bibas). A lot of good discussion of mootness, as it relates to my current interests in universality and departmentalism. I am not sure I agree with the conclusion, but the opinion is a great read.

The action is a challenge by a group of public-school teachers to Pennsylvania's agency-fee statute. While the action was pending, SCOTUS held in Janus that agency-fee schemes violate the First Amendment. The state and the union told school districts and other public employees to stop deducting fees and to refund fees collected to cover expenses from Janus forward. Although the state agency-fee law remains on the books and agency-fee provisions remain in the contracts, the union insists it has no intention to enforce either in the future. The district court held the case moot and the court of appeals affirmed.

• Bibas tweaks the common description of mootness as "standing set in a time frame," because they are not co-extensive. A plaintiff must show standing at the outset, but it is on the defendant (or someone else) to show mootness once the action has begun. Thus, under new circumstances, while the plaintiff might be unable to establish standing , that does not mean the defendant can establish mootness. As he puts it, "sometimes a suit filed on Monday will be able to proceed even if, because of a development on Tuesday, the suit would have been dismissed for lack of standing if it had been filed on Wednesday. The Tuesday development does not necessarily moot the suit." I am going to use that framing in class.

• He recasts "voluntary cessation" as "volitional cessation." Often, especially in constitutional cases, the government defendant continues to insist on the validity of its actions, even while agreeing to abide by an injunction or precedent knowing that the courts will rule against it. In other words, the cessation is not voluntary, because the government believes he can do something and should be able to do something, if not for some pesky hindrance (such as a court order). The issue is whether government can reasonably be expected to engage in the challenged behavior in the future. So the issue is not whether the cessation is voluntary but whether it is volitional, a deliberate act, regardless of its cause.

• The reasons for cessation are probative of the likelihood of re-engagement in the behavior. The court is more skeptical of a defendant who continues to insist on the validity of the conduct but yields in the face of a court order, while more forgiving of a defendant who yields to new precedent established in a different case. From a judicial-departmentalist standpoint, this gets it backwards. A defendant cannot ignore a court order in the instant case (without immediate consequence) even if it believes the basis for the order incorrect; that case should be moot because the defendant will not re-engage on pain of contempt. A defendant can ignore precedent from another case without immediate consequence, so a promise to abide by precedent should not moot the new case. I made this argument in using judicial departmentalism to justify voluntary cessation as a limit on mootness.

Moreover, if we accept particularity/non-universality as the norm for injunctions, there is no distinction between those situations. If the injunction binds the government only as to the plaintiff, then all future enforcement that is or is not likely to occur is in response to precedent rather than to a court order. There is no difference between Chicago promising not to enforce its law against Y following an injunction barring Chicago from enforcing against X and Chicago promising not to enforce its law against Y following a decision ordering Milwaukee not to enforce its identical law against M.

• Nonetheless, the court found this case moot. The unions conceded the invalidity of agency-fee requirements and forswore collecting fees and there was no indication they will not continue to abide by that position. That agency-fee provisions remain on the books and in the CBAs did not matter and did not create any  injury that a court could redress absent some indicia of intent to enforce.

The plaintiffs tried to avoid mootness by pointing to challenges to campaign-finance laws found not moot following Citizens United and challenges to marriage laws found not moot following Obergefell. The former was a complex decision targeting one campaign-finance provision, uncertain in its application to other laws and provisions. The latter did not address the incidents of marriage challenged in the other cases. Janus was simple--no agency fees allowed--and the case presented no additional issues not covered by Janus.

I think that is a cramped reading of the marriage case.The Eighth Circuit highlighted that Obergefell dealt with laws in states other than Nebraska (thus did not bind Nebraska in any way) and that the ban on same-sex marriage remained in the Nebraska constitution. The court understood, if implicitly, that there remained something for Nebraska to enforce and nothing, other than the state's voluntary (or volitional) acquiescence to stop that enforcement.

Perhaps the analysis is different when it is a private actor, such as the union, rather than a government with departmentalist powers. Others have argued that courts are too-quick to accept government representations of non-enforcement and moot cases. If so, this case gets the balance right--this case is moot based on the union's promise where it might not be moot if the government were making the same promises. Of course, perhaps that distinction collapses when the defendant arguably acts under color, as the unions likely do under these agreements.

• The plaintiffs argued that a live controversy remained based on their request for a declaratory judgment that Pennsylvania's statute is constitutionally invalid. But the union did not intend to enforce the law. And because the constitutional violation is the threat of enforcement rather than the existence of the law (or contract provision), the plaintiffs' rights were not violated and they had "nothing to fear."

The court captures this with a nice civics lesson:

It may seem odd that unconstitutional laws remain on the books. But until a party faces a real threat of enforcement, a statute is mere words on a page.

I like that framing (and added it to a current paper). We can go further: If this were not true, no constitutional action would become moot because no law declared constitutionally invalid disappears without further legislative action, so the threat of departmental enforcement remains.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2020 at 12:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2020

No qualified immunity (updated)

The Court denied cert in Cooper v. Flaig, the 12th of the 13 petitions that were pending in mid-May. The remaining case is Davis v. Ermold, the sole case not arising from police misconduct. Not sure what they are waiting for on that one.

SCOTUSBlog's Petitions We're Watching includes three qualified immunity cases. One asks whether an appellate court can raise QI sua sponte and whether to overrule Pearson and another asks for clarification of the standard for how analogous precedent must be to clearly establish a right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2020 at 09:59 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

No TRO/Injunction against Bolton book

Judge Lamberth denied the government request for a TRO and preliminary injunction stopping publication of John Bolton's memoir. The court found that the government is likely to succeed on the merits because Bolton "likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations." But the distribution process is so far along that the court refused to stop it. The court was especially reluctant to order Bolton to, as the government requested, "'instruct his publisher to take any and all available steps to retrieve and destroy any copies of the book that may be in the possession of any third party.'" As the court put it, "for reasons that hardly need to be stated, the Court will not order a nationwide seizure and destruction of a political memoir."

The government likely will appeal, but I cannot imagine the D.C. Circuit reaching a different conclusion in four days. The complaint in this case requested a constructive trust to seize proceeds from the book and there is noise about a criminal prosecution. Lamberth was confident that Bolton had opened himself to both of those.

Some passing thoughts:

1) Another entry in the standing makes no sense chronicles: After finding no irreparable harm, Lamberth pivots to standing, pointing out that he could "reframe" the irreparable-harm factor in the equitable analysis as the redressability factor in the Article III standing analysis, while declining to do so. But it illustrates, even in passing, how standing really is constitutionalized merits and thus unnecessary.

2) He also did not address any First Amendment prior-restraint issues, again because unnecessary given the equitable analysis.

3) The irony of Bolton (likely?) losing the proceeds of the book: He was criticized in anti-Trump circles for refusing to present this material to the House or Senate during the impeachment proceedings and for choosing instead to tell the story when it is too late to help the country and when it will put money in his pocket. It looks like he may lose the money.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 20, 2020 at 12:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Avoiding universality, again

The DACA decision again avoided the scope-of-injunction issue and the propriety of universal/non-particularized injunctions, in a clever way. The Court consolidated three cases--two (from New York and the Second Circuit and California and the Ninth Circuit) had entered universal injunctions prohibiting enforcement of the rescission order, while one (from the D.C. Circuit) had vacated the DHS order rescinding DACA. Only the Ninth Circuit decided the appeal and affirmed the injunction (the others were taken on cert before judgment) and the Ninth Circuit was the "lead" case in the caption. But the majority focused its review on the D.C. case that vacated the rescission under the APA without issuing an injunction. Affirming vacatur of the rescission order meant there was no rescission order, therefore nothing to enjoin. It became unnecessary to consider the propriety of the "nationwide" (unfortunately) scope of the injunction.

This may mean that resolution of the scope-of-injunction question is not on imminent, as I am not aware of any cases on SCOTUS's horizon squarely presenting the question. A reader points out that scope-of-injunction is at issue in Little Sisters of the Poor. If--as happened today and in the census case--the Chief joins the four liberals to hold that the Trump Administration messed up the APA, universality may be unavoidable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 18, 2020 at 12:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Quick Civ Pro Thought after Bostock

A quick thought about teaching Civ Pro (not until January) following Bostock: One of my go-to illustrations of 12(b)(6) legal insufficiency and dismissals with prejudice has been a Title VII claim for sexual-orientation discrimination. I need to find something new.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 16, 2020 at 09:40 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 15, 2020

SCOTUS not helping on qualified immunity

Eliminating qualified immunity does not alone solve the problem of police misconduct or within the criminal justice system, although it is a good start. It appears that start will not come from the Court. As of early May, 13 petitions challenged qualified immunity in application or in concept. The Court denied cert in three last month and denied cert in another eight on Monday. Baxter v. Bracey drew a solo dissent from Justice Thomas, repeating the arguments from his Ziglar concurrence on how neither the objective "clearly established law" or subject good faith matches 19th-century common law. Not even Justice Sotomayor, who has offered other objections to qualified immunity, joined Thomas or expressed disagreement with the denial.

Two cases remain from the original 13--police killing an unarmed man by tasing him nine times during an acute mental-health episode and Kim Davis refusing to follow Obergefell.

I wonder if the recent events and the introduction of legislation prompted the Justices to wait. Although they made this mess, Congress is moving to clean it up, letting the Court off the hook.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2020 at 10:24 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Lawsuit over clearing Lafayette Square

Complaint here. Plaintiffs are Black Lives Matter DC and five individuals who were at the protests on Monday and would like to return; defendants are Trump, Barr, Esper, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, director of Secret Service, commander of D.C. National Guard, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 100 John Does (federal law enforcement), and 20 John Poes (non-federal law enforcement). Claims are for violations of First and Fourth Amendments and conspiracy under §§ 1985(3) and 1986.

My prior post showed the problems the lawsuit faces. The Bivens and immunity problems do not go away. But the complaint finds cute ways to try show standing for prospective relief. It highlights plaintiffs' intent to continue demonstrating; the new W.H. perimeter prevents access to Lafayette Square or any protest space within view of the White House; and 3) statements by Trump and others to deploy violence against protesters--all of which establishes an imminent threat of future violence if they return to protest. The complaint also compares Trump's statements supporting protesters he likes (such as those who stormed statehouses in search of haircuts) and calling to "dominate" protesters he does not like, as a way to show that the actions against the protesters were viewpoint- and content-based.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2020 at 09:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

What about Bivens? What about prosecutorial immunity? (Updated)

Rep. Justin Amash, the House member who left the GOP because of Trump, announced plans to introduce a bill (co-sponsored with Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to eliminate qualified immunity. The bill would "explicitly not[e] in the statute that the elements of qualified immunity outlined by the Supreme Court are not a defense to liability." (Update: Draft text).

But what about Bivens, which has no statutory basis? Federal law enforcement officers assert qualified immunity in Bivens actions (over, for example, using definitely-not-tear-gas-irritant-agents to disperse peaceful protesters); many of the Court's early qualified immunity cases were Bivens rather than § 1983 actions. In Abbasi, the majority incorporated some immunity considerations (e.g., over-deterrence of officials) to the special factors counseling hesitation. But that will not apply in basic Fourth Amendment claims against domestic law enforcement; those officers still fall back on qualified immunity. I suppose that if Amash's bill were to pass, the Court might eliminate immunity to keep Bivens and § 1983 parallel.

And what of other extra-textual absolute immunities that the Court has super-imposed on § 1983 (and Bivens, by extension). Prosecutorial misconduct contributes as much as police misconduct to the racial problems in the criminal justice system (distinct from excessive-force); absolute immunity leaves prosecutors free to engage in blatant misconduct, often shifting the litigation focus back to the police, who then assert qualified immunity. In theory, appellate review, attorney ethics, and electoral checks remedy or deter such misconduct. It has done nothing in practice, given the high standards for showing constitutional violations on appeal, reluctance to sanction prosecutors, and the fact that elected prosecutors run on obtaining lots of convictions as a result of prosecutorial over-reach.

The point is that qualified immunity is bad and should go. But it is not the only cause within the constitutional-litigation framework. (And this does not consider causes outside of constitutional litigation, such as unions and employment practices). Targeting qualified immunity alone--and only in the specific context of § 1983--misses the bigger picture and the many moving pieces necessary for reform.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2020 at 10:54 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

JOTWELL: Wasserman on Bray on mischief

I have the new Courts Law essay, reviewing Samuel L. Bray, The Mischief Rule (forthcoming Geo. L.J.) and connecting his arguments about the statutory mischief rule as a solution to snap removal.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 3, 2020 at 10:39 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Cert denied in three qualified immunity cases

In a post about the Reuters stories on qualified immunity, I mentioned that SCOTUS had multiple cert petitions in the May 15 conference dealing with qualified immunity. Monday's Orders List included denials in three: Kelsay v. Ernst (police officer slams woman to the ground), Jessop v. City of Fresno (officers stole $ 225,000 in cash and rare coins while executing search warrant), and Clarkston v. White (retaliatory denial of charter-school application, where real issue was proper defendant rather than whether right was clearly establish). No noted dissents from any of the cases, even the truly egregious Jessop. Ten other petitions remain with the Court, including several that ask the Court to rethink the entire doctrine.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 18, 2020 at 09:47 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Online education on trial?

This op-ed describes a lawsuit against George Washington by the lawyer/parent of a GW student, alleging breach of contract because the claim that the school continues to deliver quality education regardless of formate is "demonstrably false."

When we went underground in March, there was some discussion of whether schools could succeed with a force majeure defense. The op-ed raised a different question for me: Will resolution of this claim require a court or jury to decide whether online education is comparable to in-person education and how comparable must it be? And will a court be willing (or willing to allow a jury) to resolve that policy question as a factual matter?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2020 at 05:44 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

When the middle might be worse than the extreme

Although several months away, universities, including law schools, are trying to figure out how to conduct fall classes. This Inside Higher Ed piece from April offered fifteen scenarios. The favored approach seems to be a return to campus, but with social-distancing and other protocols and with accommodations for students and faculty with age, health, or other reasons for being unable to return to the workplace without a vaccine or herd immunity.*

[*] And assuming that the wave of reopenings in May and June does not produce spikes in cases in June and July that set us back by several months.

Which really means that most schools will be doing a hybrid. They will be mixing in-person, remote, and online classes. And  in-person classes must have remote components. Professors who want to return to the live classroom will have to divide their sections (half the class live on Day One, the other half live on Day Two) and combine it with interactive technology--namely some kind of Zoom or similar hook-up--for the students who cannot be there. (Recording or live-streaming the regular live class is not a reasonable accommodation).

I have been thinking about how this will work and I am not sure it will. My in-person classes work because of a high level of engagement with the students in the room--a rapidly moving conversation, my pacing and moving around the room a lot, and working with and off stuff written on the dry-erase boards. I do not see how I can do that while being close enough to the computer to interact with those students, answer questions, see who is chatting or raising a hand, etc. People on Zoom cannot see the dry-erase board, so visuals would have to be on share screen in addition to the Board. In being close enough to the computer to engage the remote students, however, I fear I am going to lose meaningful interaction with the students in the room.

Given that, I think I might prefer to keep the entire class via Zoom. I believe I reached a point in March and April were I could run a Zoom class that was a reasonable approximation of an engaged law-school course that challenged students, engaged students, and taught students what they needed to know. It remains inferior to an in-person class. But it may be preferable to a hybrid that does a poor job for both sets of students.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2020 at 04:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

§ 1983 or the 11th Amendment

One of my pet peeves is confusion about why states cannot be sued in § 1983 actions: It often is short-handed as being about sovereign immunity depriving a court of jurisdiction, when doctrinally it is about states not being "persons" subject to suit under the statute and there being no cause of action against a state (or state agency).

This arose in Colorado Dept. of State v. Baca (over "faithless elector" laws)  through questions by Justices Breyer and Gorsuch suggesting that the parties colluded to maintain a meritless action in order to obtain a judicial ruling. It appears Baca sued the Secretary of State, then the parties negotiated to have the Department be named defendant and to not challenge its non-suability under § 1983. I would guess that proceeding against the state rather than the secretary was necessary for Baca to proceed with a claim for nominal damages, which was essential to establishing and maintaining standing. Counsel for both sides argued that the Court should not concern itself with this, that the availability of a cause of action is a non-jurisdictional issue that the parties can waive.* Gorsuch suggested that, even if waivable, it might be a basis to DIG the case.

[*] Scott Dodson blanched when he heard that.

I am glad both Justices used the appropriate terminology and framework and wish lower courts would follow suit. But it reveals how nonsensical it is to think of sovereign immunity (which has nothing to do with the text of the Eleventh Amendment) as a jurisdictional rather than merits limitation. Where Congress lacks power to abrogate (e.g., ADEA), the limitation is jurisdictional; where Congress has the power but declined to exercise it (e.g., § 1983), it is merits. Even if in both cases, a state is willing to be sued eo nomine.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 14, 2020 at 12:50 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, May 11, 2020

Providing Real-World Context for the 1L Civil Procedure Course

The following post is by Jack H. Friedenthal (GW), Arthur R. Miller (NYU), John E. Sexton (NYU), and Helen Hershkoff (NYU) and is sponsored by West Academic.

Civil procedure scholars disagree about many things—the scope of pleading rules, the need for liberal discovery, the role of litigation as a regulatory enforcement mechanism. But there is universal agreement that the first-year course is challenging to teach: As the law reviews put it, the course is “hard," “mystifying, frustrating, and difficult” and even “alien and incomprehensible." Civil procedure teachers also agree on the source of the problem: Our students typically lack a real-world context in which to study and engage with the rules and doctrines that they are learning. Numerous teachers have stepped up with excellent books that can supplement the basic procedure casebook, offering simulated case studies, drafting exercises, and practical study aides. Unquestionably these resources can enhance the classroom experience and improve student learning outcomes. Indeed, we reference many of these titles in the Teacher’s Manual to our casebook. The COVID-19 crisis, and the need for many of us to teach remotely, has created additional difficulties for teaching the first-year course as we each incorporate technology into the classroom.


To be sure, teaching and learning Civil Procedure require active engagement both by the professor and the student. However, not every professor is comfortable with technology, and when compelled to teach remotely, might choose to retreat into lecture-style classes. This approach runs the risk of producing rote memorization without maximizing the student’s skill development; at worst, it could stunt the student’s professional growth. Teaching during the pandemic, while the world is shuttered, thus makes it all the more imperative for the teacher to locate and to assign experiential exercises that the students can undertake even while studying remotely; these supplemental materials must be easily accessible on-line and conducive to serving multiple purposes throughout the course. Moreover, choosing from among different exercises must take account not only of a teacher’s individual comfort level with technology, but also the technology that is available at the law school (for example, the “break out” room function on Zoom) and in student living spaces, which in some situations are equipped with erratic or insufficient bandwidth. Recognizing all of these new pressures, we thought it timely to point out the helpful pedagogic tools that are contained in our
Civil Procedure Supplement for Use with All Pleading and Procedure Casebooks, which many of you already use in connection with our casebook. We also will include in our annual Update Memo materials that illustrate how civil procedure is adapting to the pandemic—changes in local rules, the availability of conferencing and oral argument by technology, permission to do constructive service, and so forth.
It’s obvious that the Supplement is an up-to-date source for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure plus other relevant source materials, such as provisions from the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Code, state constitutions, local rules, and Rules of Appellate Procedure. It also contains edited versions of recent cases of the Supreme Court of the United States. But don’t overlook its utility in providing students with context and opportunities for experiential learning: the Flow Chart of a Civil Action, an Illustrative Litigation Problem with Sample Documents, and the complaints in Twombly and Iqbal. The materials are designed for students at an early stage in their substantive legal education, can be coordinated with reading assignments from our casebook (or from other casebooks), and is compact and accessible.

First, the Flow Chart. As its name suggests, the chart is both a study aide and classroom tool (it originally was designed by Professor Michael Goldberg of the Widener University School of Law, to whom we are grateful, and since has been updated and the graphics, upgraded). The chart depicts the various stages of the lawsuit and marks the different entry points into the rules and doctrines typically taught in the 1L course. Studies show that students learn better if they have images—even simple images—in which to store ideas and information. The chart simplifies procedural moves without being simplistic. The graphics can serve as motivators to learning: Students are encouraged to move forward in the course as they move forward from box to box. Our students did not grow up watching the movie The Blair Witch Project, but they know what it means to be lost in the forest without a GPS or iPhone. The Flow Chart is a kind of map that guides students and helps them map for themselves the strategic advance of a lawsuit.

Second, the Illustrative Litigation Problem. The problem complements the Flow Chart by providing a simulated case file for a lawsuit involving a familiar kind of dispute—a car accident—building on substantive material that many students will be learning in their 1L Torts class. The problem helps to give a general picture of the flow of a lawsuit, and provides sample documents that illustrate how specific procedural rules and issues may arise during the course of a litigation. We find it helpful to point out the problem’s relevance to the particular topics that we are covering in class. So, for example, when we are teaching subject matter jurisdiction, we ask the students to look at Count One of the sample complaint and to discuss whether the complaint includes the necessary allegations to establish diversity of citizenship. Likewise, when we are teaching personal jurisdiction, we ask the students how the evolving standard they are studying, as we move from Pennoyer to International Shoe and on through World-Wide Volkswagen and Nicastro, affects the lawyer’s drafting of the complaint and the facts that the complaint must allege.

Third, drafting exercises. The Illustrative Litigation Problem offers opportunities to have students engage with drafting exercises. These exercises can be done in class or outside of class, individually or collaboratively, and we find it helpful that they be designed with ever-increasing complexity. For example, the question following the amended complaint asks whether defendants, or any one of them, may have the entire case removed to federal court. That question provides the opportunity to have the students draft a motion to remove by one defendant and by all defendants, accompanied by a memorandum of law in support. Similarly, students are asked whether Party B will be successful in challenging the joinder of parties. Students can be asked to draft the motion in opposition together with a supporting memorandum of law.

Civil Procedure is no doubt challenging to teach. One of the hardest parts is helping the students to appreciate how even small, seemingly technical changes can impact rights by raising the costs of enforcement and creating barriers to relief. Making sure that the students have a clear sense of the stages of a lawsuit and how different procedural opportunities inter-relate is an important start, and we believe that the Flow Chart provides a useful pedagogic aide in achieving that goal. Likewise, engaging with simulated lawyering exercises that illustrate how the rules operate in action reinforces student learning, and the Illustrative Litigation problem offers a convenient mechanism. We welcome your suggestions about how to teach the course and how to improve the Supplement so that it meets your classroom needs.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 11, 2020 at 03:26 PM in Civil Procedure, Sponsored Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 08, 2020

Reuters on qualified immunity

Reuters on Friday published a multi-part series on qualified immunity. The center of the study is a empirical look at how Pearson v. Callahan and the Court's recent string of summary reversals changed how courts of appeals handle qualified immunity. Its findings:

  • In 2005-07, plaintiffs in excessive-force cases prevailed 56 % of the time; in 2017-19, defendants prevailed 57 % of the time.

EXfriNtWkAEsfGi

• This graph shows that the flip in plaintiff success is a recent development. From 2014-16, plaintiffs prevailed 52.2 % of the time; for 2017-19, it dropped to 43 %. Some of that might be traceable to the influx of Trump appointees (recognizing that some, such as Don Willetts of the Fifth Circuit, have criticized qualified immunity), as well as the hint from SCOTUS's summary reversals.

• The dark blue represents cases in which the court found no excessive force; the medium blue represents cases in which the court found excessive force but that it was not clearly established that the force was excessive; the light blue represents cases in which the court  skipped the merits question and found that it was not clearly established that the force was excessive. That third category has expanded the past two years.

• Courts (including SCOTUS) increasingly demand factual overlap with precedent before finding a right clearly established. Case in point: The Ninth Circuit granted qualified immunity because no precedent held that the Fourth Amendment was violated by police stealing private property while executing a search warrant.

• The latter two colors (which, on the eyeball test, appear to represent a bit less than half of the defendant victories) establish the new problem: Courts demand factual overlap for a right to be clearly established, then refuse to provide a precedential opinion that can serve to clearly establish that right going forward.*

[*] Courts seem more willing to reach the merits--so the right now is clearly established--in non-police, or at least non-excessive-force, cases.

• SCOTUS will review multiple petitions involving qualified immunity at its May 15 conference. These include the stolen coins, an officer who deployed a police dog on a non-resisting suspect, an officer who shot a child while attempting to shoot the non-threatening family dog, and Kim Davis trying to avoid damages for ignoring Obergefell (I used this in Civil Rights in the fall). Justice Thomas called for reconsidering qualified immunity in his concurring opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi; this will be a chance to see if anyone else wants to follow him down that path.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 8, 2020 at 02:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Courts should not reach out, unless they need to reach out

SCOTUS reached a strange resolution in United States v. Sineneng-Smith, arising from a conviction of an attorney for violating the federal law prohibiting encouraging or inducing non-U.S. persons to enter or remain in the U.S.

The Court vacated and remanded to the Ninth Circuit on grounds of the "principle of party presentation"--that courts must take and resolve cases as they come and are presented by parties represented by competent counsel--and that courts are "passive instruments of government."* And while there are exceptions (as shown in a two-page addendum** in which SCOTUS has appointed amicus or called for further briefing since 2015), the Ninth Circuit went beyond the pale in its management and resolution of the case, was unjustifed by any "extraordinary circumstances." The Court took issue with the court of appeals inviting specific amicus to brief and argue specific constitutional that were broader than what Sineneng's attorney had argued--that the law was overbroad and facially unconstitutional, as opposed to the defendant's arguments that she had a limited First Amendment immunity for her conduct. [I did not say it in the initial post, but I will say it now--the Court did not explain why what the Ninth Circuit did was more beyond the pail than what it does frequently].

[*] The partisan bend of that idea is fascinating, given the make-up of the federal courts and the evolving nature of constitutional and impact litigation.

[**] Any guesses as to why this was an addendum and not part of the opinion?

Justice Thomas concurred, but took the time (reached out, one might say) to explain why the overbreadth doctrine was invalid and should be rejected as unwarranted by text and history, inconsistent with the usual standards for facial challenges, and another improper application of the improper doctrine of third-party standing. He cites his dissent on third-party standing in Whole Women's Health and restates his distaste for this "handiwork of judges, based on the misguided 'notion that some constitutional rights demand preferential treatment.'" Query whether this hints at where the Court might be going on the standing questions in the Louisiana abortion cases.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 7, 2020 at 10:59 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

7th Circuit universal injunction in sanctuary cities case

A Seventh Circuit panel on Thursday unanimously declared invalid DOJ's attempt to withhold funds from sanctuary jurisdictions and affirmed a permanent injunction, dividing 2-1 (Rovner wrote the majority, Manion dissented) on the scope of the injunction (while labeling them "universal" throughout). Rovner's opinion walks through the "veritable cottage industry of scholarly articles" on the subject, while suggesting that the scholarly trend is moving away from the constricted view that such injunctions are flatly prohibited.

The majority ultimately approves universality through a version of an indivisibility argument. Because the DOJ programs are formula grants, application of the invalid condition to other entities affects the amount Chicago receives; for Chicago to get the appropriate funds, no entity can lose funds because of this invalid condition. This is different than, for example, a purely discretionary grant of $ X, in which (unlawfully) depriving California of its money does not affect what Chicago receives. Thus, Chicago cannot get complete relief (the proper money to which it is entitled) unless the injunction bars withholding funds from everyone.

Manion's dissent rejects this on several points. The denial of funds to other entities would never reduce Chicago's award, only increase it (the court divides on what the regulations provide on this). Even if such a "windfall" is improper, the windfall comes only if money is denied to Illinois or other municipalities in Illinois; thus an injunction protecting within Illinois is sufficient, without protecting all entities throughout the country. In any event, the majority still errs by giving relief to non-parties in the guise of giving relief to Chicago.

The panel was unanimous on a different scope issue--"temporal" scope. The injunction prohibits DOJ from withholding funds in "future years." The court properly recognized that showing an injury from enforcement of a grant condition allows a party to challenge and a court to enjoin all current and future impositions of such conditions. The alternative would require a party to return each year to challenge each new denial of funds and imposition of unlawful conditions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 30, 2020 at 05:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Civ Pro Workshop Series

Suzanna Sherry (Vanderbilt) and Adam Steinman (Alabama) have organized a new remote Civil Procedure Workshop Series, hosted by and modeled on the Evidence Workshop run by Ed Cheng at Vanderbilt). It will be weekly 30-minute discussions with a guest speaker discussing current trends or topics, interesting factoids, or teaching ideas. It is open to all Civ Pro teachers.

The first workshop will be at 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. CDT, 1 p.m. MDT, noon PDT), Tuesday, May 5; Alexi Lahav (UConn) will discuss Bristol-Myers Squibb: Going Forward. I will speak on Tuesday, May 12 on a topic TBD.

Register at the above link by clicking on "Register for Civ Pro" (unless you also want to join Ed's Evidence Workshop, which I might do, as well).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 28, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2020

JOTWELL: Coleman on Wood on the real world of sexual harassment litigation

The new Courts Law essay comes from Brooke Coleman (Seattle), reviewing Diane P. Wood, Sexual Harassment Litigation With a Dose of Reality, 2019 U. Chi. Legal F. 395 (2019), which demonstrates the real-world problems facing sexual-harassment litigants.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 20, 2020 at 09:44 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 10, 2020

University of Miami sued in South Carolina

A putative class action has been filed on behalf of all students against University of Miami, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment for sending students home and for teaching them remotely. A lot of people (especially Michael Abramowicz at Volokh) were anticipating such lawsuits and writing about whether schools will have a force majeure defense.

I find the case interesting because the action was filed in South Carolina (where the lead plaintiff lives), raising some jurisdiction and forum-selection problems. Too bad I wrote my exam, because this is a beauty.

Paragraph 8 lists a bunch of minimum contacts, including:

has solicited students residing in South Carolina to attend their institution;
has accepted money, including application and other fees, from students residing in South
Carolina; has participated in college sports competitions and/or academic competitions in
South Carolina; have websites accessible to students in South Carolina; have entered into
contracts with South Carolina residents; and generally have minimum contacts in South
Carolina . . .

A few potential problems.

Sports and academic competitions and an accessible web site are contacts with the state, but those contacts do not seem to "give rise or relate to" the breach of contract claim. That UM's women's basketball team plays Clemson once a year has no connection to whether the school breached its contract by teaching students on-line.

Entering a contract with a South Carolinian gives rise to the claim. But the claims of non-SC class members are not based on contracts entered into  in South Carolina; those contracts were entered into elsewhere. A claim should "relate to" contacts where the defendant engages in identical conduct in the forum state and outside the forum (this is the point in Ford, which was to have been argued at the end of the month). But Bristol Meyers rejected (although not in a federal class action) jurisdiction over claims by out-of-state plaintiffs over out-of-state conduct, even where that conduct is identical to the in-state conduct over which in-state plaintiffs sued. This is Bristol Meyers--identical contracts with SC and non-SC plaintiffs, all plaintiffs together in SC.

There was communication and engagement with South Carolina--soliciting, sending materials, accepting money. But the contract was "about Florida," in that this is where performance was to occur and the things for which plaintiffs paid--dorm space, campus spaces, parking--were in Florida.

If there is jurisdiction, there could be a strong transfer-venue argument, since Miami is the locus of performance of the contract and it is obviously not inconvenient for the plaintiff to travel there, even if she is home in her chosen venue.

One last point on the merits: What do the plaintiffs want and what do they believe the school should have done? They want room-and-board and other campus fees reimbursed, which makes some sense. But what about with respect to tuition? Full tuition reimbursement, even though the students are receiving some (if inferior) instruction? Reimbursement of the difference in value between on-line and in-person education (either for the entire semester or the pro rata portion that went online), however that can be determined? Suspend the semester with full reimbursement and a requirement that the students return for (and pay for) an extra semester at the tail end, thereby delaying graduation by 4-6 months? Or do they want reimbursement and a pass for the semester, so they graduate with only 7 1/2 semesters of course work. Paragraph 24 complains that "the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished for the rest of Plaintiff’s life." Would that be as true if the school awarded a degree with one less semester of work?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 10, 2020 at 02:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, April 09, 2020

JOTWELL: Thomas on Green on wage claims by low-wage workers

The new Courts Law essay comes from Suja Thomas (Illinois), reviewing Llezlie Green, Wage Theft in Lawless Courts, 107 Cal. L. Rev. 1303 (2019), discussing the difficulties for low-wage earners bringing wage claims.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 9, 2020 at 11:10 AM in Blogging, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Class certification in felon-disenfranchisement case

In February, the Eleventh Circuit declared invalid a Florida law that required released felons to pay court-ordered financial obligations before their voting rights could be reinstated, affirming an injunction prohibiting enforcement as to the 17 named plaintiffs. At the time, I wrote:

The question is what happens next. The state remains free to decline to enforce the payment law against anyone while it continues to fight this litigation, even if not enjoined from doing so. That avoids either new litigation and a new injunction involving new plaintiffs or the court certifying a 23(b)(2) class of all felons unable to pay LFOs and extending the existing injunction to the class.

We got the answer on Tuesday. The district court certified a 23(b)(2) class of all persons who would be eligible to vote but-for unpaid obligations and a sub-class of persons who would be eligible but-for unpaid obligations and who show a genuine inability to pay those obligations. The state opposed certification in part on the grounds that an injunction is unnecessary, because the state will abide by any ruling if the plaintiffs prevail on the merits. The district court responded:

Here, though, the Secretary’s promise to abide by any ruling is not enough. After entry of a preliminary injunction in favor of the 17 individual plaintiffs, the Secretary advised Supervisors of Elections throughout the state that the ruling applied only to the 17 individuals. The March 2020 elections went forward on that basiswithout any statewide effort to conform to the United States Constitution as interpreted by both this court and the Eleventh Circuit. Class members can hardly be faulted for asserting that, if the ruling on the merits ultimately is that they have a constitutional right to vote, the right should be recognized in an enforceable decision.

The district court properly nailed the state on its inconsistency--promises of future voluntary compliance with a particularized injunction are undermined by past refusal to voluntarily comply, making the next step of class certification necessary. This is perhaps how litigation should work--a particularized injunction for individuals, expanded to a class if the state chooses not to voluntarily change as to non-parties. This is how some of the marriage-equality litigation proceeded, notably in Alabama.

But the state's framing, at least as described by the district court, is circular: The state would "abide by any court ruling." But any court ruling is limited to the named plaintiffs, so not changing conduct towards non-plaintiffs is not a failure to abide by the ruling. We need a new concept to capture what we want the government to do in changing its enforcement behavior to persons not protected by the injunction. Perhaps we could think of it as abiding not by the injunction but by the law-declaratory aspect of the court's judgment--the signal from the court as to the state of the law, separate from the order compelling government to act or refrain from acting, that hints at what will happen if government continues (as it is free under the particularized injunction) to enforce its laws as to non-parties.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 9, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Universality in Texas

Following on Dan's post about the Tuesday's Texas abortion case and courtesy of Josh Blackman, there is FN 19 of the opinion:
 
Although not necessary to our decision, we note that the district court purported to  enjoin GA-09 as to all abortion providers in Texas. But Respondents are only a subset of  Texas abortion providers and did not sue as class representatives. The district court lacked authority to enjoin enforcement of GA-09 as to anyone other than the named plaintiffs. See Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 931 (1975) (explaining “neither declaratory nor injunctive relief can directly interfere with enforcement of contested statutes or ordinances except with respect to the particular federal plaintiffs”). The district court should be mindful of this limitation on federal jurisdiction at the preliminary injunction stage.
This is obviously dicta, given how the case came out. But it illustrates two points about the scope-of-the-injunction issue. First, it is not limited to cases involving ederal law and certainly not limited to federal executive orders and regulations. Because the real issue is injunctions extending beyond the parties, it is present regardless of the source of law. Second, had the court come out the other way on the merits, this is a good example of a case in which the practical effect would be universality, either because the government will fall in line and not enforce against anyone or because it would be easy for other providers to join and have the injunction extended to them.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 8, 2020 at 01:09 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 30, 2020

Creative Projects

I have written before about the creative projects I do in Civ Pro (I stole the idea for Josh Douglas of Kentucky). For voluntary extra credit, students put together something fun related to the class and the subject: skits, videos, song parodies, poems (lots of haikus), paintings, storybooks, comic strips, etc. At the Q&A session the day before the final, we display and perform them. Many of them are quite good--law students have talent.

The question is whether to do this this year and how. Many of the larger projects are collaborative, which obviously is impossible this year. We will not be in the same space to display the visual projects or to perform. I suppose people can read or show their projects through the Zoom connection and I can run any videos through it. Keeping the project might provide some sense of normalcy (as well as extra points).

Thoughts?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 30, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, March 23, 2020

States can pirate and plunder copyrighted material all they want

So said the Court in Allen v. Cooper, holding that states cannot be sued for copyright violations. Congress cannot abrogate under its Article I powers other than Bankruptcy Clause, which has "good-for-one-clause" support and the copyright act is not congruent-and-proportional because it reaches all infringements, not only intentional infringements for which states fail to provide adequate remedies. My SCOTUSBlog analysis is here. I got this one wrong after argument and need to stop making predictions based on questioning. I went lighter on the pirate puns because the Justices did it for me.

Some additional points to draw out:

Justice Kagan writes for a clear six (herself, the Chief, Alito, Sotomayor, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh). Justice Thomas writes an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Ginsburg) writes an opinion concurring in the judgment. But the labels on the separate opinions are confusing. 

Thomas labels his opinion  "concurring in part and concurring in the judgment," while saying in the first paragraph that he "cannot join the Court’s opinion in its entirety."

A concurrence in the judgment usually means agreement with the result but not the legal analysis leading to the opinion. A concurrence means, in this context, that the author joins the opinion except for a few legal points that do not affect the majority's reasoning and path to the judgment.

Thomas identifies three points of disagreement and pieces with which he does not join: 1) The standard for stare decisis (the majority demands a special justification, while Thomas believes precedent can be overruled if is demonstrably erroneous), although everyone agrees that controlling precedent should not be overruled under either standard; 2) the majority's advice to Congress about how it can enact a valid abrogation, which is dicta; and 3) whether copyrights are property for due process purposes, a point the parties stipulate in this case. None of these points affected how the majority reached its conclusion. It thus makes no sense to label this a concurrence in the judgment; Thomas joined (or appears to have joined) all the parts of the opinion that led to the judgment. This should be a concurring opinion, with Thomas providing a seventh vote for the majority.

Breyer labeling his opinion as concurring in the judgment seems strange for a different reason. He agrees that Florida Prepaid resolves the case, although he disagrees with the Court's sovereign-immunity doctrine (for reasons described in his dissents in several of those cases, which he string cites). And writing on a clean slate, he believes abrogation is proper. But the majority opinion resolves the case as Breyer believes it must be resolved--applying Florida Prepaid. It thus seems the appropriate approach would have been to join the Kagan opinion but to write the opinion he did as a concurring opinion (not concurring in the judgment). It seems odd to concur in the judgment but not provide an alternative explanation or analysis for that judgment beyond "what the majority said, with which I disagree but with which I am stuck."

This seems like a half-measure version of Justices Brennan and Marshall in death-penalty cases. They dissented from every summary disposition and cert. denial on the grounds that capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment, refusing to follow established precedent and insisting the case should come out the other way. Breyer wants to follow precedent, even precedent he sees as wrong. But that means he agrees with the majority's analysis applying controlling precedent, even if he would prefer to reject that precedent.

So at the end of the day, this is a 9-0 case--everyone agreeing that the statute is invalid in light of Florida Prepaid and three Justices expressing different views about the doctrine or pieces of the majority's analysis.

Finally, during SCOTUSBlog's live blog of opinions, Tom Goldstein identified a "generational divide" among the Court's liberals. The old guard of Ginsburg and Breyer--who were on the Court and dissented when this abominable line of precedent developed--continue to reject the doctrine. The new guard of Sotomayor and Kagan (who wrote the opinion) accept the current legal regime as correct. It is an interesting idea. Although query whether they regard it as correct as much as they recognize they are stuck with it and do not have the skin in the game to point to past dissents, as Breyer does.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 23, 2020 at 04:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The procedure of frivolous political defamation actions

The Donald Trump Campaign today sued the Washington Post in the District of D.C. over a June 2019 column by Greg Sargent. This follows the campaign's suit in New York state court against The New York Times. Meanwhile, Devin Nunes is up to seven lawsuits against various persons, bovines, and business entities.

This rash of lawsuits has many First Amendment advocates calling for more states and the United States to enact anti-SLAPP statutes. These suits represent the modern analogue to Southern officials' defamation campaign against northern media outlets in the 1950s and '60s. But I have been slow coming to the "anti-SLAPP is necessary" position; if the protections of New York Times were sufficient to stop the barrage 60 years ago, they should be sufficient now.

The answer comes from the latest episode of the All the Presidents Lawyers podcast. First Amendment advocate Ken (Popehat) White explains that the purpose of these lawsuits is not to win, because most of the suits are garbage under NYT and the plaintiffs and their lawyers know that. Rather, the purpose is to drag people into court and impose the time, burden, distraction, and cost of having to defend themselves, with the added benefit that it may make people and the press less willing to criticize these people. In theory, only an anti-SLAPP law--with its attorney's fees provision and expedited dismissal--addresses that problem. The alternative (in federal court) is sanctions under FRCP 11 and attorney's fees against counsel under § 1927. But courts may be reluctant to impose sanctions against a congressman, president, presidential campaign, or other powerful and famous plaintiff--especially to award attorney's fees as a sanction, which is the way to address the financial cost to the plaintiff that the lawsuit is intended to impose. Perhaps Nunes' seven nonsense lawsuits would indicate a sufficient pattern that a judge might find attorney's fees necessary for deterrence of client and attorney. But not in the mine run of cases.

Some commentators have suggested that the availability of an anti-SLAPP statute affects litigation choices. Nunes sued Twitter (a California company) and McClatchy Newspapers (publisher of the Fresno Bee) in Virginia, which lacks a strong anti-SLAPP law, rather than California, which has one. Both courts have declined to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, with analysis revealing confusion over the newly narrowed scope of general jurisdiction. Some commentators have suggested that the choice of forum (federal over state court) or the choice of parties depends on whether the federal court would apply the state's anti-SLAPP law.

But we should be more nuanced on the question of anti-SLAPP laws in federal court. I have argued that the special SLAPP motion should not apply in federal court (the position of the D.C. Circuit, in which the new Trump Campaign action was field), because FRCP 12 and 56 cover the issue. (And a 12(b)(6) dismissal, in which the court considers whether the statements as pleaded are opinion, can get the defendant out of the case quickly enough). By contrast, the SLAPP attorney's fees provision should apply in federal court. Under the "relatively unguided Erie analysis," not applying the fee provision would cause a plaintiff to choose federal over state court and the attorney's fee provision is bound up with substantive state policy concerns for protecting the free speech rights of its citizens. If the real concern is the cost of having to defend even a nonsense suit, an attorney's fee provision addresses that.

Finally, it is notable that the Trump Campaign, rather than Trump, brought these two suits. I am not sure how the campaign can claim injury from statements about Trump. One commentator suggested the Campaign sued to get the WaPo case in federal court. The Campaign is a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in New York; Trump, the commentator implies, is a D.C. domiciliary and thus not diverse from the Post.

This returns us to Where In the World Is Donald Trump? Trump was a New York domiciliary prior to January 20, 2017. In October, he (and Melania) renounced his New York citizenship and filed a Declaration of Domicile in Palm Beach County, Fla., establishing Mar-a-Lago as their permanent residence. Trump thus appears to be a Florida citizen--he has a residence there and expressed his intent to remain. Although Trump resides in D.C., he has not manifested an intent to remain there (unless he manages to get Republicans to repeal the 22d Amendment). So it is wrong to say the case could not be in federal court were Trump the named plaintiff--it would be an action between a citizen of Florida (alone or with a citizen of New York/Virginia) and wherever the Post is.

On that point, this case offers a different procedural lesson, because plaintiff counsel screwed up the jurisdictional statement with respect to the Post. Paragraph 10 reads:

On information and belief, defendant WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post is a District of Columbia limited liability company with its principal place of business in Washington, D.C.

An LLC is a citizen of every state in which one its members is a citizen. So identifying an LLC as a party cannot establish jurisdiction because the LLC has no independent citizenship; you have to dig into the LLC's structure to identify individuals or corporations whose citizenship does not depend on someone else. Plaintiff did not bother doing that. I assume that some digging will lead to Jeff Bezos, who is a citizen of Washington state and/or some D.C. corporation. But the complaint, on its face, does not establish federal jurisdiction. And reflects the sort of bad (or disinterested) procedural lawyering I warn my students about. Curious if the Post will raise that or move on, knowing what jurisdictional discovery would reveal about its structure.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 3, 2020 at 04:35 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Judge Sutton hates Rooker and Feldman--So now what?

The Sixth Circuit reversed a Rooker-Feldman dismissal of a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act action, challenging the interest rate included in state writs of garnishment. (H/T: Volokh's Short Circuit round-up). Judge Sutton writes a concurrence begging district courts to stop applying RF except to cases in which the district court is asked to rule that a final state supreme court judgment violates the Constitution.

Sutton insists that RF cannot be used to stop federal actions seeking to second-guess all state court rulings, such as an unappealed state trial-court ruling (whether interlocutory or final-and-appealable). Some courts had justified RF not only on § 1257, but also on § 1331's grant of original (rather than appellate) jurisdiction to district courts. If that also explains RF, then limiting it to final state supreme court decisions is too narrow, at least where the federal plaintiff truly claims constitutional injury arising from a state judgment.*

[*] The majority supported its no-RF conclusion in part because a writ of garnishment is not a judgment.

Sutton argues that such a case be handled by issue and claim preclusion. So does that work? Take the paradigm case of a state trial-court judgment stripping a father of visitation rights. If the father does not appeal to the state intermediate appellate court but instead runs to federal court, Sutton would say RF does not apply. But would preclusion bar that claim, as it must if district courts are not to become reviewing courts for state trial-court judgments.

I also would be concerned that the doctrine that will rise up to replace RF is not preclusion but Younger. A number of lower courts have used that doctrine halt these sorts of challenges where the state proceeding is pending. Except Younger should be limited to challenges to the underlying state law being challenged rather than to complaints about the state court decision itself.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 29, 2020 at 10:38 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 28, 2020

CFP: Junior Faculty Fed Courts Workshop

Washington University School of Law in St. Louis will host the Twelfth Annual Junior Faculty Federal Courts Workshop on September 11–12, 2020. The workshop pairs a senior scholar with a panel of junior scholars presenting works-in-progress.

The workshop is open to untenured and recently tenured academics who teach and write in the areas of federal courts, civil rights litigation, civil procedure, and other related topics. The program is also open to scholars who wish to attend, read, and comment on papers but not present.  There is no registration fee.

 

The conference will begin on the morning of Friday, September 11, and conclude by early afternoon on Saturday, September 12. Each panel will consist of three to four junior scholars, with a senior scholar commenting on the papers and leading a group discussion.

 

The workshop will take place at WashU Law, which is located 15 minutes from STL airport. The School of Law will provide lunches and dinners for those attending the workshop, but attendees must cover their own travel and lodging costs. A discounted block of rooms will be made available at Washington University’s Knight Center, which is next door to the School of Law. Those wishing to present a paper must submit an abstract to [email protected] by March 30, 2020. Papers will be selected by a committee of past participants, and presenters will be notified by the end of May.

 

Questions about the conference may be directed to Prof. Daniel Epps ([email protected]) or his assistant, Andrea Donze ([email protected]). Up-to-date information about the conference will be provided at https://law.wustl.edu/faculty-and-research/conferences-and-workshops/12th-annual-junior-faculty-federal-courts-workshop/

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 28, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

YouTube not a state actor (Updated)

When SCOTUS decided Halleck last term and held that a private company managing public-access cable channels is not a state actor, it was obvious that this meant online platforms such as YouTube or Twitter were not state actors. And so the Ninth Circuit held on Wednesday in PragerU v. Google, a challenge to YouTube policies restricting or demonetizing certain videos. The court rejected the argument that YouTube performed a traditional-and-exclusive public function in managing a speech forum (the argument rejected in Halleck) or that YouTube's public declaration that it is committed to free expression changes its private nature.

This was easier than Halleck. There was something to the position that Justice Sotomayor took in her Halleck dissent that it was a delegation case rather than a public-function case--the government took on a responsibility then delegated it to a private entity. YouTube is an electronic version of the private comedy club discussed in Halleck.

This part of the opinion ended on an interesting point, telling everyone, in essence, to calm the f*&^ down:

Both sides say that the sky will fall if we do not adopt their position. PragerU prophesizes living under the tyranny of big-tech, possessing the power to censor any speech it does not like. YouTube and several amicus curiae, on the other hand, foretell the undoing of the Internet if online speech is regulated. While these arguments have interesting and important roles to play in policy discussions concerning the future of the Internet, they do not figure into our straightforward application of the First Amendment.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 26, 2020 at 06:00 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Bivens closer to death (and Thomas would kill it)

In one of the (unfortunately) least surprising decisions of the Term, SCOTUS held Tuesday in Hernandez v. Mesa that a Bivens claim was not available against a border-patrol agent who shot a Mexican national standing on the Mexico side of the border.

Justice Alito's opinion for five adopts the most restrictive view of Bivens, defining a new context to include virtually any identifiable factual distinction (here, the fact that the plaintiff was injured outside the U.S.), despite the right (Fourth and Fifth Amendment) and basic facts (excessive force by law enforcement standing on U.S. soil) being the same. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, goes bigger--having cabined Bivens scope and limited its precedential value, the Court should "abandon the doctrine altogether." Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent for Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

One notable point of departure between majority and dissent is how each reads Abbasi. The majority reads it as the latest in a 40-year line of cases rejecting Bivens claims, reaffirming the narrowness of past factual contexts and the newness (and thus inappropriateness of a Bivens suit) in other contexts.. The dissent emphasizes that Abbasi, while rejecting a Bivens action against high-level policymaking officials for national-security policy choices, "cautioned" against reading it to eliminate or limit core Bivens claims against rank-and-file law enforcement officers for unreasonable seizures.

If any case not on all factual fours with Bivens repesents a new context, the majority gets where Justice Thomas wants to go, without the political cost of overrulings. The "special factors" analysis will come around to congressional failure to authorize such a cause of action by pointing to § 1983 and the fact that it is limited to state (not federal) officials and plaintiffs within in the United States; that congressional failure will require judicial hesitation. The dissent's response--Congress enacted § 1983 in the middle of Reconstruction with a specific concern in mind and was not thinking about federal officials shooting people across borders--does not sway the rest of the Court. This factor always comes to conflicting views of what to do with congressional silence: The majority reads inaction as congressional intent not to reach the situation, while the dissent reads it as leaving the situation to Bivens (lest it create a situation in which it is "damages or nothing").

This decision is unsurprising, as conservatives have long hated Bivens. On the other hand, conservatives increasingly resort to the courts and constitutional litigation. What happens when conservative groups want to challenge ATF agents raiding their compounds?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 25, 2020 at 01:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 24, 2020

JOTWELL: Kalajdzic on Fitzpatrick on the conservative argument for class actions

The new Courts Law essay comes from Jasminka Kalajdzic (Windsor), reviewing Brian Fitzpatrick, The Conservative Case for Class Actions (2019). Brian gave a Fed Soc on the book at FIU last month.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 24, 2020 at 10:25 AM in Article Spotlight, Books, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Scope of the felon-enfranchisement injunction

The Eleventh Circuit last week affirmed a district court judgment declaring invalid a Florida law that required released felons to pay restitution and other "legal financial obligations" before their voting rights can be reinstated.

For my purposes, the injunction is limited to the 17 named plaintiffs in several consolidated cases. The Eleventh Circuit describes the district court preliminary injunction as "requiring the State to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote." And it ends the opinion as affirming "the district court’s preliminary injunction enjoining the defendants . . . from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations." No matter how some sources have read the order, the court of appeals is clear that this is a non-universal/particularized injunction, entitling the seventeen plaintiffs, but no one else, to vote.

The question is what happens next. The state remains free to decline to enforce the payment law against anyone while it continues to fight this litigation, even if not enjoined from doing so. That avoids either new litigation and a new injunction involving new plaintiffs or the court certifying a 23(b)(2) class of all felons unable to pay LFOs and extending the existing injunction to the class.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 22, 2020 at 02:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Model of Constitutional Litigation

My new piece on universal injunctions has been published in Lewis & Clark Law Review. Precedent, Non-Universal Injunctions, and Judicial Departmentalism: A Model of Constitutional Litigation joins three threads that I have been writing and blogging about here--the requirement of particularized injunctions, the distinction between precedent and judgment, and a model of departmentalism in which all branches are bound by judgments but only courts are bound by judicial precedent. The result is a model of how constitutional litigation functions in fact and should function in our understanding.

Abstract after the jump.

This Article proposes a model of constitutional adjudication that offers a deeper, richer, and more accurate vision than the simple “courts strike down unconstitutional laws” narrative that pervades legal, popular, and political discourse around constitutional litigation. The model rests on five principles:

1) an actionable constitutional violation arises from the actual or threatened enforcement of an invalid law, not the existence of the law itself;

2) the remedy when a law is constitutionally invalid is for the court to halt enforcement;

3) remedies must be particularized to the parties to a case and courts should not issue “universal” or “nationwide” injunctions;

4) a judgment controls the parties to the case, while the court’s opinion creates precedent to resolve future cases; and

5) rather than judicial supremacy, federal courts operate on a model of “judicial departmentalism,” in which executive and legislative officials must abide by judgments in particular cases, but exercise independent interpretive authority as to constitutional meaning, even where those interpretations conflict with judicial understanding.

The synthesis of these five principles produces a constitutional system defined by the following features:

1) the judgment in one case declaring a law invalid prohibits enforcement of the law as to the parties to the case;

2) the challenged law remains on the books; and

3) the challenged law may be enforced against non-parties to the original case, but systemic and institutional incentives weigh against such enforcement efforts and push towards compliance with judicial understandings.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2020 at 07:15 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 08, 2020

JOTWELL: Steinman on Engstrom on Lone Pine Orders

The latest Courts Law essay comes from Adam Steinman (Alabama), reviewing Nora Freeman Engstrom, The Lessons of Lone Pine, 129 Yale L.J. 2 (2019), on the history and development of Lone Pine orders in mass-tort class actions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 8, 2020 at 03:31 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 27, 2020

Thomas and Gorsuch on universal injunctions (Updated)

SCOTUS stayed pending appeal the injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Trump Administration's public-charge regulation, another example of the government seeking and the Court granting extraordinary relief to allow the administration to continue enforcing policies pending litigation where the lower court found the policies defective. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred in the stay, to take aim at universal injunctions (with citation to the work of Sam Bray and Michael Morley), properly defining them as injunctions protecting beyond parties rather than in geographic terms.

Unsurprisingly, I agree with Gorsuch's basic point against universal injunctions. I am not sure what it has to do with this case. Gorsuch would have granted this stay regardless of the injunction's scope. And I am sure he is waiting for the government to challenge a particularized Illinois injunction that (he acknowledges) remains in effect so he can stay that, as well.

Update: I wanted to come back to the question of whether the stay was proper. Given the make-up of the Court, it seems clear that, when the case comes to the Court on the merits, the majority will declare the policy valid. That aside, what about the stay? Where the district court granted an injunction, the question should be what will create more permanent and long-lasting chaos--staying the injunction (thus allowing enforcement of the underlying policy) or allowing the injunction to remain in effect (thus stopping enforcement of the underlying policy, allowing continuation of the primary conduct the regulation is designed to stop.

Today's order means the U.S. can deny status to certain people for the moment, although should the reg be declared invalid at the end of the day, those people could then reapply and be considered without the now-unlawful policy. Had the Court not stayed the injunction, people otherwise subject to the order could enter and/or gain status; if the order ultimately is declared valid, the government would have people in the U.S. or with status who otherwise should not have been permitted. It does not seem that the government could retroactively apply the regulation to remove presence or status already granted under the old rules. So as abhorrent as I find the policy, it seems a stay was appropriate. Where am I going wrong?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 27, 2020 at 01:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Judge Easterbrook does judicial departmentalism

People are talking about Judge Easterbrook's opinion for the Seventh Circuit in Baez-Sanchez v. Barr, taking the BIA to task for not following the court's instructions on remand. Easterbrook is outraged about executive conduct that "beggars belief.' The court has "never before encountered defiance of a remand order,and we hope never to see it again. Members of the Board must count themselves lucky that Baez-Sanchez has not asked us to hold them in contempt, with all the consequences that possibility entails."

Easterbrook then says the following:

A judicial decision does not require the Executive Branch to abandon its views about what the law provides, for the doctrine of offensive non-mutual issue preclusion does not apply to the United States. United States v. Mendoza, 464 U.S. 154 (1984). The Attorney General, the Secretary, and the Board are free to maintain, in some other case, that our decision is mistakenthough it has been followed elsewhere, see Meridor v. Attorney General, 891 F.3d 1302, 1307 & n.8 (11th Cir. 2018). But they are not free to disregard our mandate in the very case making the decision. That much, at least, is well established, not only in Plaut but also in many other cases. See, e.g., United States v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 464 U.S. 165 (1984). The Solicitor General did not ask the Supreme Court to review our decision, and the Department of Justice is bound by it.

Although he does not use the term, this is a nice and succinct encapsulation of judicial departmentalism: The executive can disagree with and disregard a judicial decision it regards as mistaken in some other case. But the executive cannot disregard the court's mandate in the current case when that mandate has become final and unreviewable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 25, 2020 at 10:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Immigration, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Two from the Fifth Circuit

From John Ross' invaluable weekly round-up of federal court of appeals decisions at Volokh Conspiracy come two from the Fifth Circuit.

• In U.S. v. Varner, a trans female prisoner moved the court to amend the judgment of confinement to reflect her new name, while asking the court to use her new name and preferred pronoun. My interest in the case is that the majority held that the motion to amend should have been denied for lack of jurisdiction, because no statutory or rule basis for amending a judgment applied. The dissent properly accuses the majority of issuing a "drive-by jurisdictional ruling;" what the majority labels a lack of jurisdiction is better understood as a failure of the petition on the merits, because Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 allows for correction of clerical errors; the problem is that a clerical error is not at issue here. That is, the failure of the petition to satisfy the rule defeats the petition, but not for lack of jurisdiction.

I will not say much about the dispute between majority and dissent about the pronoun request, except that the dissent has the better reading of the request and I cannot imagine a court being more dismissive of the preferred-pronoun issue.

• In Horvath v. City of Leander, the court affirmed a grant of summary judgment against a firefighter on a claim that the city violated the First Amendment by insisting that he take a different job or wear a respirator because he claimed a religious objection to the TDAP vaccine. The majority found that the city offered a reasonable accommodation, which the plaintiff refused.

Judge Ho concurred in the judgment in part and dissented in part. Ho would affirm the judgment on the clearly established prong of qualified immunity, but then proceeds to rail against qualified immunity as unjustified by common law, the Constitution, or § 1983. He argues that the concerns justifying qualified immunity can be addressed if courts do a better job with the merits prong; the current problem "stems from misuse of the first prong of the doctrine. Simply put, courts find constitutional violations where they do not exist." If courts did a better job with the constitutional analysis, police would not be chilled or over-deterred.

But then he gives the game away about where this would take us. After all, "the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit reasonable efforts to protect law-abiding citizens from violent criminals--it forbids only unreasonable searches and seizures." Unspoken is the view that police can do whatever they believe necessary in the moment against someone they believe poses a threat to law-abiding citizens--it would be open season on anyone perceived as a threat. Unless, of course, those police officers speak rudely to a white woman who wants to pray while the officers are searching her house.

Look, I agree with Judge Ho that we should get rid of qualified immunity and let the Constitution do the work. But his opinion shows that the cross-ideological opposition to qualified immunity will give way to ideological splits on substantive rights--lots of Free Exercise violations when officers are mean t0 Christians, few Fourth Amendment violations when officers shoot African-Americans.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 17, 2020 at 07:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Universal consent decrees

Two U Conn students who were prosecuted and sanctioned by the university for violating the school policy against "disruptive behavior" for uttering a racial slur have filed suit in the District of Connecticut, claiming the school sanctions violate the First Amendment. (H/T: Eugene Volokh). The case should be easy as a First Amendment matter--the students seem to have shouted the slur into the ether, not directed at anyone and not accompanied by any threatening conduct.

But it is procedurally interesting, potentially complicated, and seemingly wrong. After the jump.

In 1990, U. Conn. entered a consent decree in a lawsuit brought by a then-student named Nina Wu, who was sanctioned for saying "no homos" on a board on her dorm-room door. The consent decree permanently enjoined U. Conn. from enforcing a provision of its student code "against this plaintiff or any other student." This is a universal injunction, protecting the universe of U. Conn. students (or it is at least non-particularized). I would argue the court cannot and should not issue such an injunction. The completeness of Nina Wu's remedy is unaffected what might happen to do students 30 years later--that is, students who were not born at the time of the injunction. On the other hand, U. Conn. could have entered the consent decree with Wu, then voluntarily altered its conduct and declined to enforce the provision against any other student (which is what usually happens). But this case offers a third option--U. Conn. voluntarily bound itself to non-enforcement as to non-parties as a matter of an enforceable judicial order. Can a defendant do this? Can the court do it if the defendant agrees? Can a court enforce it as it would a properly scoped injunction?

The plaintiffs frame their case, at least in part, as an attempt to enforce the consent decree. They allege in ¶ 8 that they have standing to enforce the decree because of its stated scope. But then the procedural posture makes no sense--why (and how) can a plaintiff file a new lawsuit to enforce a judgment in a different action, even if in the same district and assigned (under a local related-case rule) to the same judge. It seems to me that the proper course have been to move to intervene or join as plaintiff in Wu and to move the court with jurisdiction over the injunction to enforce or modify. Filing a new lawsuit before a new judge is proper if asking for a new injunction protecting these plaintiffs as to these defendants.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 16, 2020 at 04:47 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)